Tag Archives: writing

Reading Recovery

Published in the year of his death from cancer, Henning Mankell’s After the Fire is a slow examination of a seventy-year-old’s confrontation with solitude and loss.  The protagonist, a retired doctor,  lives in a archipelago being visited by an arsonist, and we begin at the site of the first fire. Finding the arsonist is relegated to the background, as what it means to live in a community where trust is replaced by wariness is explored, even as death and old age is the larger specter in the forefront.  Yet this is an optimistic novel, where friendship and family, however distant, is embraced, sometimes gingerly, sometimes with affection.

This was the one of the last books I read before I broke my wrist, but not the last book I’ve read since.  There was a fatalistic stoicism in the narrative that strikes me deeper as  I now try to fill my days with no-impact activity.  Thus constrained to cat care, lackluster weeding, a great deal of sighing, a fascination of one-handed bottle opening techniques, elevating my arm on pillows, watching repeats of mysteries, instagram, I am reading with an awareness that my situation could have been worse.  The Great Believers by the quite brilliant Rebecca Makkai, a Claire Messud novel, Elif Safak‘s Forty Rules of Love,and a wonderful novel by Caitlin Macy called Mrs. Now, biding my time, easing insomnia, I am romping through Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians, which will become a film*. it has an all-Asian cast, for it is story about Asians.  Apparently, one filmperson wanted the heroine to be re-cast white, but no.  She will be a wary non-rich, non-crazy Asian woman portrayed by an Asian.

Sometimes  the fates shift the balance.

*the book is different than what the film preview shows, from dialogue to fashion, alas.

Roaring ocean



The roar was so loud I heard in the parking lot last night, when I got home from somewhere.  What laugh was this in the sky?  It was the ocean, whose wild crashing waves called fiercely.  Write poems, breathe, run with your brand new sneakers.  I heard the coyotes circle and bark other days– I think it is a family of young pups whose mother only has three legs– and the horses snoring like elephants.  Tomorrow in class we will discuss poems by Li-young Lee.  I want to tell the students this is their rare life chance to read beauty, to breathe the breath of a poet, to think.

Here are his lines:

…where there is rain/there is time and memory, and sometimes sweetness.

While the long grain is softening/ in the water, gurgling/ over a low stove flame…

Of wisdom, splendid columns of light/ waking sweet foreheads/ I know nothing/ but what I’ve glimpsed in my most hopeful of daydreams.

How could they not want to read those?

An incessant songbird plies its tune, mellowed by the chirps from other branches.  Sometimes where I live, it is so quiet I can only hear the refrigerator hum.

One cat is hiding near the ceiling, and the other blinks, stretching her paw out like a queen.  They are waiting for dinner, which will come today an hour early. The lost hour slips by, like a girl on her way to dance class, shoulders hunched, eyes averted.  Already March, Spring readies to let down her hair and twirl.




I spent my birthday as an author-in-residence at the Ames Free Library in North Easton, MA.  Through a chance encounter, an immediate spark of connection, and some planning, I resided royally in a  19th c. mansion designed by Andrew Jackson Downing who collaborated with Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame.  I arrived at night, kindly escorted, met, and settled into what would be my home for the next day and quarter.  I settled in with the second Neapolitan novel by Elena Ferrante, in which life becomes even harsher for our knowledge-seeking heroines.  On waking, I discovered I was in another world.  I was inside a mansion. Tackling a kuerig capsule of coffee, a drip coffeemaker, and a precious container of milk, I made coffee, ate a buttered English muffin, and began to read.  The room I was in contained a small library of books on writing, comfortable chairs, and a view that revealed an Italian-like garden, complete with curving low walls, a pergola, and in the distance, a fountain.

After a full day with a visit with my brother, a reading/talk in the library, and a celebratory dinner ( I turned fifty-five), I retired to “my home.”  Then the bliss:  I woke the next day, settled at the desk, and wrote.  I discovered the Italian garden was the garden in the novel in progress.  Only when I came home did I find out that Downing drew plans for  another landscaped manor, on property owned by Matthew Vassar, whose college I attended.

Sringside Planss/ upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e7/Springside_plans.jpg

Sringside Planss/

I wish my professor, the late Bill Gifford, could share this discovery with me.  He would appreciate the connection, and would have something witty to add.  I trek back to Vassar to attend his menorial in December.


Indira Ganesan, Trio, 2015

Indira Ganesan, Trio, 2015


I think it’s been said before that weeding a garden is like editing, getting rid of what is excessive, creating more room for the essentials to grow.  I first heard the editing metaphor from a wise friend who applied it to her home.  Instead of using the trendy concept of “decluttering,” editing her space made it sound more mindful, more serious.  So, I edit the garden as autumn comes with its cool weather, right on time.  The geese, the ones who leave, have returned, and primary colors of summer are fading.  So much in the garden was attacked by downy mildew and black spot.  I let the crabgrass alone, and it grew in a verdant lush.  So today, I waded in, and pulled out dying purple-flowered mint lookalikes, and pushed upright the oregano which was beaten horizontal by a storm, uncovering tender rosemary and chocolate mint.

The previous gardener planted the oregano, the sage, and thyme.  I added dill, more lavender.  The bees, honey and bumble, are feasting on the oregano flowers, and the catmint.  After the oregano dies back, I am thinking of clearing some to plant another rose, a strong scented one like Gertrude Jekyll, or Jude the Obscure. I think I’ll add more white flowers next , for the effect at night.  The success I had with white cosmos planted with seed my first summer has never been repeated, and I think I will move on.

Editing.  What can be reined in, what can expand to fill the bare spots? And how will the end match the spontaneity of the spring, the opening?  I would like to bring in some orange for the autumn.  There is an American beauty dahlia that is quietly blooming, and the purple Diva made its emergence last week like Barbara Streisand at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant staircase in Hello, Dolly!

Maybe, next time, a grouping of one kind of dahlia, instead of lonely specimens.   Geraniums in the front.  The experimentalization giving away to the tried and true. For a kind of subconscious closure, I planted some sweet peas among the morning glories, and they are about six inches tall, their tiny tendrils looking to grab onto something.

It’s all about death and dying and rebirth, isn’t it, the seasons, and literature?


Summer Reading

Girl Reading

Girl Reading

Summer is a lawn and an umbrella, and books to read.  All the books you couldn’t get to all year.  Summer allows for trips to the bookstore, trips to the library, all in good weather.  This summer, I am tackling War & Peace again, only this time I plan to read all the war sections. So far Napoleon has made an appearance, and a favorite character who was single in one chapter appears in the next not only married, but with a marriage on the skids.  In between courses of the big tome, I happily read Emma Straub’s The Vacationers and Hanna Pylvainen’s We Sinners.  Before, it was Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which made me sink into all thirty-eight episodes of “The Tudors,” a show which if not as intellectually compelling as Mantel, was colorfully addictive.  There are the books I didn’t make through last year, and the new ones I am placing in my mind’s reserve shelf.  Boundless summer, that has so much reading in it!


What it looks like now


a longish view


from the right


new columbine blooms, and one fern taking root.


after cutting down the iris, it began to sprout again.


hidden basket


more of the same


Hidden miniature rose and pansies, salvia, & bee balm.


From the right

So, here is what the Secret Hanging Gardens look like now.  To lemon balm*, iris, pansies, rose geranium, columbine, anemone,solomon’s seal, bee balm, wild violets, alyssum, million bells,  I’ve added a coleus, two types of Salvia, a bit of fern and sweet woodruff.  A protecting Crow Godess* watches. It is a garden of singles, of onesies, when wisdom says plant three of each, or five.  I hope in time, the violets and columbine will spread, as will the solomon’s seal.  I want to scatter some bulbs in the fall.

Does it represent my novel’s current state? My novel looks at a tragedy, which is couched in other events of a scattered extended family, during 1991-92.  That is, it is an assemblage of various plants (characters) in relationship to each other, but does it  an overarching harmonic scheme

Is it at all political?  Does it say anything?  This slender novel, I mean, garden,  beats back the wilderness with a view to free some trees.  Creating a garden; creating a novel?

What does it need, friends?





*Lemon balm from my friend, Alla; and a Crow Goddess medallion purchased from Sarah’s etsy shop.

These days


I am feeling lighter these days, not only because winter seems to be heading out.  The leave-taking is slow; rain and hail this afternoon.  But I am glad to report that I do not yet have to take leave of where I live, that I can stay a little longer.  In some ways I feel I am living off the grid, though obviously I am not, as I haul huge sacks of gourmet groceries out of the trunk of my not yet paid for car.  But then I don’t think I ever imagined to be in my mid-fifties in the place I had been in my mid-twenties.  I had been so miserable then.  I am not so miserable now, nor do I think I ever could be in that way.  But I was fully caught up in my work, unselfishly, un-self-consciously, because everyone around me, then, was caught up in their work, writing or painting.

So here I am, once again not receiving any of the grants I applied for this year, and thinking ,maybe next year. Or maybe no; time to retire for asking for more.

 A more radical idea would be to say that I have been lucky to receive what I did then, and continue to receive now.  I am still sheltered by the same arts institution as in my twenties, as i said, and I work with working writers at another institution. I am teaching Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse where there are more than enough phrases to circle the world with the sheer joy of language.  

And yet.  Is this exactly all there is? What exactly else is there?  I don’t seem to be climbing up anymore in my career, but walking laterally.  I have two cats.  Family and friends.  Great students.  I still miss Boulder.  I think about my old dreams of moving to England for a spell or France.  How can I have not seem Rome? Or Greece?  I know there is more.

So the task is to see how to make sense of what I have and what I want.  

For a long while, I used to, to be honest,  think, how can people they help me.  Using people–it is not a way I want to live. Certainly not, would say a character from a book I love, in an English voice.  But I’m not English; American: brash, obnoxious; friendly.  Oh,and Indian, another thing altogether. Or not.  If I had a grant, would I be able to sort through my ideas any better?  Is writing a blog like writing a diary, only the publishing occurs before death? 

 April: when the land ought to be green, where patience is required.